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Texas Senator Challenges Constitutionality of $500 Guaranteed Basic Income Program

A Texas state senator, Paul Bettencourt, has raised concerns about the constitutionality of a program in the Houston area that provides residents with $500 a month without any conditions attached.

Call for Legal Opinion

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Senator Bettencourt sent a letter to the state attorney general on January 12, requesting an opinion on whether counties have the authority to implement guaranteed income programs.

Explaining Guaranteed Basic Income

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Guaranteed basic income is a concept similar to universal basic income but is specifically targeted at particular groups. Programs resembling the one in Harris County are being adopted in various cities across the United States.

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Program Commences Amid Controversy

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Bettencourt’s request coincided with the launch of the program known as “Uplift Harris.” This initiative aims to provide eligible households in Harris County, which encompasses Houston, with $500 a month for a maximum duration of 18 months.

Funding Source

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To fund the project, county officials utilized over $20 million from federal COVID-19 relief funds allocated through the American Rescue Plan.

48,000 Applications in 3 Days

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The program garnered over 48,000 applications within its first three days, as reported by the Houston Chronicle.

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Constitutional Concerns

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In his letter to the attorney general, Senator Bettencourt cited a section of the Texas constitution that restricts the legislature from granting counties the authority to distribute public funds for individual assistance.

Local Authority Questioned

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Bettencourt emphasized that Harris County is not a Home Rule city and, therefore, lacks the ability to create new laws independently. He questioned whether the state had granted the county the authority to establish a program like Uplift Harris.

Targeted Assistance

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Uplift Harris is designed to offer guaranteed basic income to households residing in specific zip codes with the highest poverty rates within Harris County, as outlined on the program’s website.

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Questions Raised

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Bettencourt raised questions about the selection process for certain zip codes and inquired about the criteria used to choose the fortunate 1,900 recipients, contrasting them with those not included in the program.

Sustainability Concerns

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The senator also expressed concerns about the program’s long-term sustainability, particularly in terms of funding. He questioned who would assume responsibility for continuing the initiative once the allocated funds were exhausted.

Legal Standoff

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Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee defended the program, asserting that Bettencourt’s legal claims were aimed at undermining an initiative designed to assist impoverished individuals. Menefee pledged to defend the county against the senator’s legal challenges.

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Political Motives Alleged

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Menefee accused Bettencourt of prioritizing political agendas and attempting to weaponize government institutions rather than focusing on improving the lives of Harris County residents.

Will Share Legality With Attorney General

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He told Business Insider that “The county’s program is legal and we will make that clear to the Attorney General.”

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